A while ago, the research arm at Volkswagen Group began testing of its automated vehicles in urban traffic in Hamburg, the first time the automaker has conducted testing of Level 4 autonomous driving in real-life conditions in a German city. Currently, the test fleet comprises five e-Golf test units which are outfitted with laser scanners, cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radars.

Specifically, each e-Golf for the purpose of this evaluation is set up with 11 laser scanners, seven radars and 14 cameras. Each regular test drive lasts several hours, and up to five gigabytes of data are communicated per minute. Each e-Golf test vehicle packs computing power ‘equivalent to some 15 laptops’ in the luggage compartment, and ensures that data on pedestrians, cyclists, other cars, intersections, rights of way, parked vehicles and lane changes in moving traffic are captured in the shortest distance and time.

These e-Golf test units will drive a three km section of a digital test bed for automated and connected driving, and the results from these test drives – taking into account all data protection rules – will be incorporated into the Volkswagen group’s automated driving research projects, as well as test customer-centric services and to optimise individual transport, the company said.

The artificial intelligence employed in the vehicle software has a set of considerable tasks required of it, to say the least. It needs to register all relevant objects and respond to them promptly, without triggering any false alarms, says Volkswagen. To achieve this, several AI approaches are used, including deep learning, neural networks and pattern recognition.

As these drives are test sessions, all autonomous test drives will have a specially-trained driver behind the wheels of each autonomous-capable e-Golf to constantly monitor all driving functions and if required, intervene in an emergency. Previously, Hamburg was also the location for a more rudimentary test, where Volkswagen tested an autonomous parking function at Hamburg Airport last year.

The research arm is working with all brands and relevant departments within the group to develop and ensure the functionality of automated driving on public roads al the way to Level 5 autonomous driving. The goal is to be able to offer customers solid products for automated transport of goods and passengers on public roads ‘a few years from now’. The company however notes that fully automated driving in public without a driver to assume manual control will need changes in legislation and infrastructure.